Introduction: Budget Launch, Aerial Video Balloon

Picture of Budget Launch, Aerial Video Balloon

The Hackerspace I "work" at just marked its 1 year open point.  Woohoo!!!!  And so we thought about combining our usual monthly/bimonthly event with a bit of a larger scale project.  And that was to fly a balloon with a camera.

But we have a pretty limited budget and a short time frame to get it done.  Here is how it went, (still uploading the video to youtube as i write this).  Sadly the video is not as good as i hoped,  the wind had picked back up, so its loud,  and very jiggly.

I didn't know at the time of planning this that there was a contest about launching things  (does it hurt your chances to mention a contest in an entry??) I found the contest when making my mini instructable on making "LED Flyies" But I did stay up the night after our big event to write this up and post if because the deadline is 11pm tomorrow!

Video of the flight and some still photos can be seen on the last page of this Instructible!

Step 1: The Parts

Picture of The Parts

1 36" latex balloon, $3.85 got it at (
1 Tank of helium ( was able to borrow my dad's otherwise rent one.  the disposable tanks are overpriced)
1 6"x6"  square of foam-core board.
1 spy pen video camera. $30
1 Kite reel (i had one already, but they go for about $4)
1 postcard $0.25 and $0.29 stamp
1 ziploc bag.
1 Dollar bill (prize)
1 sticker prize.
Tape,  used both scotch and 3m double sided sticky tape

Step 2: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

Sadly I made some photos of this part, but lost them by formatting the wrong memory card. 

so i only have the photo of the platform on the scale.

I cut a slot on the foam core board,  its a little less than 1/2CM wide. the balloon just above the know will go here

I cut it off center to allow for the prize/postcard ziploc to counter balance the camera.

Prize pouch contains, ziploc baggie, full of 1/2 of a dollar bill (part of the prize if they return the postcard with an address) a sticker from Quelab, and a postcard pre filled out and stamped, requesting where it was found and a return address to send other 1/2 of the bill.

Prize pouch is just taped down, and also taped down with scotch tape on the other side.

Camera is double sided taped down, and also had a thing of tape around the board make sure it didnt fall off.

I weighed it to make sure it was well under the 66gm  of lift the balloon is supposed to be able to do (was also worried it would lift less than 66gm due to the fact i'm a mile above sea-level.

Step 3: Launchday

Picture of Launchday

Today was launchday.

We had a large event involving local rocketry experts, and astronomers, and all sorts of paper airplane testing/contesting.

I was worried that the afternoon storms had whipped up some wind,  but we got a little calm, so i decided to go for it.

I was worried that the wind might catch the balloon as i was filling it or tying it, so i had friends hold a netting over me. while I inflated it.  It was a good idea. made the act of tying a knot and getting it on the string much less stressful

It had more lift than i thought.  (was not totally full probably only 80% of the way to being frighteningly full)

Slid the platform on the bottom of the balloon, and turned on the camera.  (note to all of you out there, apparently i bumped the button so it recorded one second. :(   but  after letting it up and reeling it back, i found that out so we launched again, this time being sure it stayed recording. ! Woo! two for the price of one! )

Step 4: The Video! and More Photos.

Picture of The Video! and More Photos.

Ok, so first off it was a little windy,  and apparently the kite reel i had lets out line a little jiggly.  so if you get motion sickness be warned!

Next  time i hope its a more calm day,  i may also put a wide angle lens on the camera. ,  maybe a fin or tail on the camera so it only looks one way.

When we were all done I retrieved the camera from the platform, taped the platform to the balloon, and set it free! It was visible for about 11 minutes until it started to kiss the clouds. Lets hope someone mails back the postcard!  if so i will scan it and post it here!

If you want to do something like this and are in the Albuquerque area, come checkout Quelab!  Its a Hackerspace/Makerspace having a lot of fun!


CCube55 (author)2014-04-02

I saw an rv with smoke comeing out of it......

Jadtrack (author)2014-01-13

Does the camera upload to a computer or Idevice as it's filming ?

killbox (author)Jadtrack2014-01-13

Sadly no, it just locally recorded, which is why it was on a string, and also sadly why we had to send it up twice, had not pressed the button well enough and it was not recording the first time.

there are some new wireless cameras folks could use, but probably not as cheap still.

frisbeechamp1983 (author)2011-12-31

that's not funny, seriously you think plane crashes are funny?

mybluevan (author)2011-08-04

As far as the questions on FAA regulations are concerned, check out for full information. But generally speaking for tethered balloons like this you're good if you keep it below 150 ft.

Also, for those interested in this project, be sure to look into near space ballooning as well. The video/photos from that are even more stunning.

killbox (author)mybluevan2011-08-04

That is the same faa guideline i looked over, and it has nothing about the limited size of the balloons i used, its talking about. "that has a diameter of more than 6 feet or a gas capacity of more than 115 cubic feet."

My balloon had a rated cubic footage of 5.5 feet. if you look at the w6xe link above you can see he went and did a big job of playing phone tag, and was unable to find any regulations.

mybluevan (author)killbox2011-08-04

That's an excellent point that I forgot about. The applicability section that you're quoting would mean that FAR 101 doesn't apply to your balloon and that you can legally fly it at any height as long as you do so in a safe manner that doesn't cause a hazard to others.

I found a good discussion of this topic here.

However, in practical application the FAA will most likely want to have a word with you if you're flying it over 500ft or anywhere near an airport. They'll probably consider it hazardous at that point. (think helicopters or small planes running into it) Double check with the local Air Traffic Control if you're unsure.

ThorsMitersaw (author)mybluevan2011-12-09

you people care way too much about the law

ElvenChild (author)2011-10-11

I don't really find that funny at all, but to each his own.

Mr.What (author)2011-10-08

Can we try that camera on a small electric RC plane?

killbox (author)Mr.What2011-10-09

Sure, as soon as i figure out where I lost it. ...

tmacris (author)2011-08-05

There is some good information on balloon cameras at Public Laboratory. They are doing mapping work. Check it out:

tdawber-mandeno (author)2011-08-01

im thinking of somthing simlar but for caving (looking at very high cellings)

skylane (author)tdawber-mandeno2011-08-04

Great idea! but the helium tank is going to be a bit heavy to lug around in a cave, I would think.

tdawber-mandeno (author)skylane2011-08-04

no if you have a small tank it is less weight

mperrault1 (author)2011-08-04

A picavet would steady your camera and can be done very cheaply

killbox (author)mperrault12011-08-04

indeed i may look into one but it would ultimately have to be under about 6 grams.

not sure it would have helped so much, our wind was pretty strong, and most of the cause of jitter. it it was a free flying balloon i think it would have happily floated on the wind.

ferjanyen (author)2011-08-04

Hi, I love the idea of the camera in the balloon but you need to gimbals like on a ship compass, you may need thee balloons then, to take the weight.
Good luck,

techno guy (author)2011-08-02

Where can I get a camera for this since I don't have a spy pen and I'm not going to buy one online. Is there a webcam I could use that costs less than $10?

jhtitan (author)techno guy2011-08-04

search ebay for "Key chain spy cam" or search for "808 key chain cam" they can be bought for under $10 us and shoot decent video and stills. We use them on RC planes all the time.

killbox (author)techno guy2011-08-02

I have seen small little keychain cameras that could work, (sold at places like wallgreens/cvs, for under $20) but they don't do video so you would need to rig up a remote or timer.

CVS might still have their little single use video camera, but i suspect unless you can disassemble it and lighten the load, (and possibly run it off of small lithium batteries.

LesB (author)2011-08-04

Got an answer from another 'varker regarding the FAA question, may be helpful to you:
From: NearSpaceLuke
Date: Aug 4, 2011. 11:34 AM

Have a read through Part 101 of the FAA regulations ( There's a ton of useful information in there, but pay particular attention to Subpart A and Subpart D. It's not that much reading, so don't be scared. The general answer is that a small enough payload doesn't have any restrictions...currently. You should still try to keep your flight out of high traffic areas, away from airports, and file a NOTAM report with air traffic control.

bajablue (author)2011-08-04

What an ingenius way to spy on your neighbors... as long as they don't own a pellet gun! ;-D

LesB (author)2011-08-04

I don't know what the altitude limit is, but at some point an FAA permit is required, lest your project get swallowed by the intake of a 747.
Back in the early '70s I was flying a 6-foot box kite by the Berkeley marina, and my string almost got caught in the rotor of a helicopter. I still have pictures from the marina taken from a Brownie camera mounted on the kite.

killbox (author)LesB2011-08-04

Thats a tough question, if we do it again we will look harder into whom to contact, The FAA was effectively shut down during this period, making verification difficult

The balloon falls well below their PART 101 - MOORED BALLOONS, KITES, UNMANNED ROCKETS AND UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS, stated sizes and payload and even height of the moored balloon, so i think this slips under the legal requirements. (but im not a lawyer so check for yourselves!)

This is not only my own interpretation but also of this guys

Greasetattoo (author)2011-08-03

Get a GoPro camera.
They have video stabilization.

Made for stuff like this.
Might break the budget, but you would get way better videos.

ZoDo (author)2011-08-03

Great ideea. Needs a little more work but it's amazing. Keep it up

dchall8 (author)2011-08-02

Have you looked at ways to stabilize the camera?

killbox (author)dchall82011-08-02

yes, if i do it again, there are a few things. like waiting for a nice calm low wind day! (wanted to get it up for a big event we were having, but we had wind and walking rainstorms all afternoon. ) and there are a variety of gimbled camera mounts for things like kite photography, that could be adapted. though weight is a real concern. I think less wind, more time and care given to reeling it out slowly. and tying it off when reeled out. and reeling it in more smoothly. (possibly through a pully. possibly putting a tail on the camera platform to keep it pointed a single direction (if there is a breeze) Bandaid over the microphone too to help block wind.

r5sb (author)2011-08-01

did you have to get any clearance for the launch?? thnx

r5sb (author)2011-08-01

something like ur project...hope it helps!!=)

Notquitepinoy (author)2011-07-31

I'd like to try this too... Your project is awesome,,, did you have to get clearance from the FAA?

mirogster (author)2011-07-31

Awesome idea&instructable. BUT you should aim higher ;) Have you heard about Near Space programs ?? :) It's even more interesting!

killbox (author)mirogster2011-07-31

Indeed, as budgets allow, i suspect we are going to be doing atleast a track-able balloon launch in the future. Not sure how many 1000 feet the 36" balloon will be good for before it pops though, we are already starting at about 5000'

About This Instructable




Bio: Im a bit of a geek of all trades. Of late most of my free energy has going into Making sure our hacker/makerspace is ... More »
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